Philips is asking the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to make Procter & Gamble's Braun electronics division stop advertising its Pulsonic line of electric shavers. The lawsuit comes in the final week of holiday shopping.
Brand reputation guru Al Ries says Braun doesn't have a lot to worry about as far as consumers go.
"Frankly, I think most consumers will ignore this," he says, adding that lawsuits resonate with the public when the public has reason to worry. "In other words, when people can understand the category: People understand lead poisoning, which has been in the media for years and years. When you associate that with toys for kids, everyone heads for the hills. That's a conceptual idea people are familiar with."
He says Braun also has strong brand identity. "Braun has a very, very good reputation as a high-end, German brand; it's a bit like someone suing Mercedes-Benz on engine design."
The suit asks a judge to order Braun to halt its "false advertisements" that show the Pulsonic as a device using sonic power to generate micro vibrations to expose and shave more hair and to award damages to Philips.
Among other things, the complaint contends that Braun's survey this year in Men's Health, which showed that 9 out of 10 men voted Pulsonic the "best electric shaver they have ever tried," was a scientifically uncontrolled sweepstakes. Philips charges Braun with dangling a free $250 Pulsonic shaver to participants.
A Philips representative, who says the company won't comment on the filing, says the closest competitive product to the Braun Pulsonic is the Philips Norelco Arcitec, with a price of $249.
In the 19-page complaint, Philips alleges that Braun has been losing market share to the former's Norelco brand and that the latter touted old technology as revolutionary and new in its Pulsonic campaign, which launched in May with print, TV, and online ads.
"Through this deluge of claims, all glorified by references to 'sonic' technology," reads the claim, "defendants are deceiving consumers ... . The Pulsonic is no different acoustically in any material respect from Braun's last top-of-the-line shaver, the 360 Degree Complete (which was never asserted to be a revolutionary 'sonic' device)."
The suit goes on to claim that Braun's ads--a "campaign of deceit," per Philips--which tout "Pulsonic Technology" by comparing it with Norelco's SmartTouch shaver, are "completely false, false by implication and misleading."
Braun, which is based in Germany, said in a statement, "P&G/Braun takes very seriously issues related to false claims and advertising. Braun only launches products that have been tested thoroughly and according to scientific standards. These tests also are the basis for substantiating our claims."
The company goes on to note that Pulsonic was "the test winner in a recent study by the independent and highly renowned German Consumer Association 'Stiftung Warentest.' In the key dimension of shaving performance, Pulsonic ranked first and clearly outperformed Philips' TOL shaver Arcitec."
Added the company, "P&G/Braun is surprised that Philips has filed suit now since practically all claims have been advertised since September 06 (in the launch markets Germany and Japan)."
Philips argues that the timing is especially heinous because half of shaver purchases are made in the final three months of the year. Says Philips: "Braun and P&G are attempting to prey on consumers during the Christmas shopping season, a point underscored in the final statement in its television commercial, which refers to Pulsonic as 'the perfect gift'."